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Nigeria still violates religious freedom, US agency insists

Nigeria’s removal from the list of violators of religious freedom by United States Department of State is “appalling” to another Washington agency, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), TheNiche reports.

USCIRF says it finds it “unexplainable” that the Department of State did not redesignate Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) and treated it as a country with no severe religious freedom violations.

“USCIRF is disappointed that the State Department did not adopt our recommendations in designating the countries that are the worst violators of religious freedom,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza.

“While the State Department took steps forward on some designations, USCIRF is especially displeased with the removal of Nigeria from its CPC designation, where it was rightfully placed last year, as well as the omission of India, Syria, and Vietnam.

“We urge the State Department to reconsider its designations based on facts presented in its own reporting.”

US Nigeria Law Group (USNLG) Managing Partner, Emmanuel Ogebe, who is based in Washington has also criticised the decision announced by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“The U.S. decision not to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for egregious religious freedom violations goes against the facts and the reality that most Nigerians know and is a return to the regrettable Obama era I had dubbed ‘see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil,’” said Ogebe, a human rights lawyer.

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“Sacrificing religious minorities on the altar of appeasement is a travesty of the highest order given that America itself was born in the quest for religious.

“Blinken has apparently learnt nothing from his goofed assessment of the Afghanistan implosion even as Nigeria becomes the next frontier of global jihad with the tacit omission and commission of the Nigerian regime.

“Blinken is the new Hilary (Clinton) who refused to recognise Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. Ironically we obtained that FTO designation as I testified in the U.S. Congress eight years ago this week. What a sorry repeat of a historic blunder.”

USCIRF recommendations

Based on the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), USCIRF noted, the countries the State Department designated as CPCs are Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, all besides Russia previously had been designated.

“USCIRF recommended CPC designation for all 10 in its 2021 Annual Report and also recommended that India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam be designated as CPCs,”

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Maenza disclosed in a statement.

The statement is titled “USCIRF Appalled at Administration’s Removal of Nigeria from List of Violators of Religious Freedom”.

The State Department placed on its “Special Watch List” (SWL) Algeria, Comoros, Cuba, and Nicaragua.

USCIRF recommended in its 2021 Annual Report that Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan also be placed on the SWL.

And USCIRF recently released a factsheet reiterating its CPC and SWL recommendations, which explains the religious freedom violations in these countries supporting USCIRF’s recommendations.

“While USCIRF is concerned about the lack of designations for countries USCIRF recommended, Russia’s designation for the first time as a CPC for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom is welcomed.

“USCIRF has proposed this action since 2017.

“For years, USCIRF has raised the alarm regarding the Russian government’s purge of ‘non-traditional’ religions and religious freedom repression,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Nury Turkel.

“USCIRF also applauds the inclusion of Algeria in the State Department’s SWL designations this year, which USCIRF has recommended since 2020 due to continued enforcement of blasphemy laws and restrictions on houses of worship for minority religious communities.”

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USCIRF also welcomed the State Department’s designations of nine Entities of Particular Concern (EPCs), which are non-state actors that engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom pursuant to IRFA.

USCIRF recommended the designation of seven of these actors including al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), and the Taliban in its 2021 Annual Report.

Role of USCIRF

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyse, and report on religious freedom abroad.

USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.

To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov.

USCIRF was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.

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